The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), through the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), has issued a Final Rule that revises its regulations concerning the transportation of lithium cells and batteries. In consultation with the Federal Aviation Administration, PHMSA is modifying the hazard communication and packaging requirements for lithium batteries to harmonize the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) with international standards, including the United Nations (UN) Model Regulations, International Civil Aviation Organization’s Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air (ICAO Technical Instructions) and International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code.

PHMSA’s revisions to the HMR are significant in that they impact shipments of lithium cells and batteries, as well as items and products that contain such cells and batteries. Among other changes to the HMR are these long-awaited revisions:

  • Replace equivalent lithium content standards with Watt-hour standards currently used in the ICAO Technical Instructions and IMDG Code as a method for measuring the size of lithium ion cells and batteries
  • Implement revised shipping descriptions for lithium metal batteries and lithium ion batteries included in the ICAO Technical Instructions and IMDG Code
  • Amend regulations concerning the transportation of small and medium lithium cells and batteries to permit the transport of up to eight lithium cells or two small lithium batteries, including cells and batteries that are packaged with, or inserted into, electronics and other items
  • Amend the requirements for transporting lithium batteries to be disposed of or recycled to exempt such batteries, including those contained in equipment, from certain testing, record-keeping and specification packaging requirements when packed in a strong outer packaging as required under other provisions of the HMR and transported by motor vehicle to a permitted storage facility or disposal site
  • Harmonize the regulations concerning the transportation of low production and prototype lithium cells and batteries with the ICAO Technical Instructions and the IMDG Code
  • Set forth new regulations that require recalled, damaged and defective lithium batteries to be packaged in combination packages, surrounded by non-conductive cushioning material, and transported by highway, rail or vessel only, with consideration of situations requiring air transport on a case-by-case basis

PHMSA also announced it will maintain the current prohibition against transporting lithium metal cells or batteries aboard passenger aircraft, regardless of size, when the cells and batteries are not packed with or contained in equipment. In addition, the HMR revisions do not amend regulations regarding what constitutes a change to a battery design as set forth in the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria, nor do they require lithium cells and batteries to be marked with language indicating that the cell or battery met applicable tests set forth in the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria. PHMSA further explains that the HMR revisions do not limit the locations on board aircraft where lithium cells and batteries are permitted to be stowed.

PHMSA also specifies in the final rule that the revisions are consistent with the provision of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 that prohibits DOT from promulgating or enforcing regulations concerning the air transportation of lithium cells or batteries if the requirements are more stringent than the requirements contained in the ICAO Technical Instructions.

To review all provisions of the final rule, see PHMSA’s website.